Winfield Townley Scott Critical Essays


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Winfield Townley Scott never seemed able to live up to the expectations of others and of himself. Although he received recognition in 1956, when he was included in the anthology Fifteen Modern American Poets, he has virtually disappeared from the American literary canon. As a reviewer of poetry, he came to know all his poetic contemporaries, but he was not in the mainstream. After he moved to New Mexico, he saw himself as a national, rather than regional, writer. Aside from a few poems, he continued to be squarely rooted in the New England literary tradition. He wrote two long narrative poems and sought funding to write other “epic” works. However, after he had enough money to devote himself to full-time writing, he failed to write any of the projected long poems. His lyric poetry, incredibly autobiographical and personal, is quite good, but his frequent poetic allusions to the seventeenth century become problems for many readers. His themes, mourning the past and coping with failure, are those of his hero and model Robinson, and his poetic persona is Robinsonian. Sexual and creative impotence, sometimes merged metaphorically, figure prominently in the poetry, which became increasingly preoccupied with death.

Biography of Traman

Biography of Traman, Scott’s first volume of verse, contains poems about Traman, an anagram of Art Man, or Scott himself as artist. The poems, which cover Traman from childhood through university experiences and the world of work, were intended to form a kind of American parallel to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Many of Scott’s recurrent themes may be found in this early work. In “Traman Walks to Work,” Traman’s “twenty-ninth winter” finds him mired in grief and despair: “Traman faces/ More than loss of leaves and coming of snow.” Tormented and “half mad yet from night insanity,” Traman “cartwheels,” or alternates, between “Triumph disaster triumph disaster,” which critic Scott Donaldson reads as Scott’s lifelong preoccupation with thwarted success. The first part of the poem concludes with Traman’s concern about his future, which may be subject to a “larger failure than his own,” or be beyond his control. The second part of the poem concerns his attempts to play a game in which he assumes the role of someone else. This reflects Scott’s persistent efforts to please others and to avoid conflict. The attempt to walk in someone else’s steps ends in failure because “His balance wasn’t ever strong,” a line that suggests Scott’s own instability. The poem ends with lines that imply that Traman will be his own person: “With only...

(The entire section is 1099 words.)